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Fashion Design Students Impress Renowned British Designer Elizabeth Emanuel with Innovative Takes on Marie Antoinette
When U.K.-based fashion designer Elizabeth Emanuel began posting design challenges on Instagram to spark creativity during this time of social distancing, Jeffrey Mayer, professor of fashion design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ School of Design, was hit with a flash of inspiration.
As Mayer was preparing to teach a unit on collage to sophomores in his Advanced Fashion Illustration class, Emanuel posted a challenge to design an updated costume for a re-booted Marie Antoinette movie. “I saw her post on Instagram and I thought, ‘What fun!’” Mayer says. “It fit really well with the collage theme and I knew it would be a fun project for the students.”
Once the idea started percolating in his head, Mayer thought about how special it would be if he could actually have Emanuel join the class to offer her critique on the students’ designs. “I’ve had a relationship with her through the years and have taken students to visit her studio during study abroad trips to London and she’s always been absolutely lovely,” he says. “So I emailed her to see if she’d consider joining us on Zoom to critique the projects inspired by her challenge. Amazingly, she said yes!”
With that, the students had their assignment: create a refreshed design for a fictionalized Marie Antoinette using the technique of collage (digital tools, like Photoshop, were permitted alongside traditional “cut and paste” collage) and impress Elizabeth Emanuel—who, perhaps most notably, designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress for her 1981 nuptials to Charles, Prince of Wales.
“The second I sat down to work on this project, I knew I wanted the focus to be on an unusual medium,” says Calla Kremidas ’22, whose dress design featured a collage of postage stamps from countries around the world. “The stamps came from my mother’s childhood collection and I felt that having images from all around the world was fitting as Marie was a queen of a powerful country.”
Kremidas was so inspired by the assignment that she designed two dresses under the parameters of the challenge. “For my second design, I went brighter and more extravagant with 3-D butterflies and a little bit of sparkle,” she says. “I was beyond excited to be critiqued by Elizabeth Emanuel. Hearing her say, ‘I can understand why you wanted to do both. They’re both amazing and they’re very different,’ was so inspiring and makes me want to keep pushing as a designer.”
Fellow student Yianni Biniaris ’22 says that while knowing Emanuel would be critiquing his work was extraordinary, he tried to approach his design as if she were not, in order to maintain its authenticity. “I took inspiration from Antoinette’s hometown flowers and the use of natural materials,” he says. “When being critiqued by someone like Elizabeth, the advice and pointers she gives carry such a heavy weight. You take what she says with a larger consideration. The experience made my quarantine a whole lot better!”
For her design, Maya Campos ’22 knew she wanted to combine elements of traditional collage with Photoshop to form a hybrid piece. “Professor Mayer always encourages me to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she says. “After a lot of thinking, I was most inspired by flowers so I actually hand-picked flowers from my garden and started working with that first and then brought that into Photoshop and created my collage.”
“It was interesting to see the many different ways students took this assignment,” Mayer says. “There were different sensibilities—a lot of opulence, a lot of excess, a lot of working with silhouette and shape.”
According to Mayer, while the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have brought unique challenges to teaching and learning from a distance, it has also made moments like this possible. “I think under normal circumstances it would have been more difficult to nail Elizabeth down for something like this,” he says. “While she’s always been very generous with her time, I think we benefited from having this period where people are at home without much else to do. It’s nice to have something to focus on and to be able to give back a little bit.”
“It was such a pleasure to meet the students and very kind of Professor Mayer to ask me to critique their work,” Emanuel said in reflection of the experience. “I was impressed by the very high standard of the students’ presentations and I was very interested to understand what had inspired them and how they approached their work.”
The critique won’t soon be forgotten by the students involved. “Having someone so creative and so esteemed critique our work and give us feedback was an amazing experience,” Campos says. “Having a professional review your work and give you advice on how to improve it helps us grow as designers. Syracuse has such an amazing network that gives us exposure and helps us build connections.”
To view more of the Marie Antoinette-inspired designs, check out the fashion design program’s Instagram page.